Monday 22 July 2013

Why do some women act like sexist men?

When my friend and teacher Iris Leal read the manuscript of my most recent novel, she she said she felt it was a little misogynistic. Admittedly, the Israeli writer and critic also pointed out many things that she liked about the book, and over the decades I’ve accepted her advice with gravity, but this time I was simply shocked.

I loved writing Myrna, my central character. A strong independent woman, she comes to terms with her sexuality, flees the middle-class married mediocrity of 1950s London and builds a new life for herself in California.

So I filed that particular criticism in my brainbox under ‘Hmm, naaah’ and moved on with my life, until a couple of days ago, when I received an email from a reader, accusing me of being misogynistic in this colyoom’s recent piece about Ann D’Another Thing.

The reader felt my scribbling betrayed a deeply sexist core. The accusation rather frightened me. Twice accused of misogyny, I had to read the piece again, but the process felt ludicrous. Both my heart and head knew the truth.

Back in the mid-1980s when I met Iris, I was a reflexive idealistic lefty. I knew exactly what was wrong with the world. Truth and lies were white and black, because black and white sounded racist, or was it the other way around?

It was complicated back then, when young men had to be on board with feminism. Thankfully, it was ideologically unquestionable, while the fact that I actually fervently believed in it was helpful on a more base level. Unlike lots of other less-convinced blokes, I never had to worry about ‘slipping up’ verbally, thus ruining a date with a sexist clunker.

Despite what my parents told me (and hoped for!) I didn’t compromise my ideals as I grew older, and still believe as fervently in women’s rights now as I did back then. The reason, I suspect, that I am now accused of misogyny is that I’m upset, and my feelings might be bleeding into my scribbling.

You see, as a man in the 21st century, I’ve been tolerating extremely unattractive and blatantly sexist behaviour from women for years.

During those militant years of the feminist revolution, we all hoped for the eradication of pay disparity, chauvinistic behaviour and a breakdown of the patriarchal society that had made the world such an unpleasant place.

Happily, progress has been made in some of those areas, yet I’m deeply saddened to see the way some women think it now acceptable to behave towards men in exactly the way they found intolerable as victims.

I can hear my female readers going:

“Oh, poor diddums! Can’t you take it? Welcome to our world!”

It makes me sad to think I fought, marched, shouted and campaigned for that world to change, only for it to be recreated in mirror-image. Television chat shows host groups of women who feel absolutely comfortable sitting around having a really good laugh about how terrible their husbands are in bed. Endless commercials portray men as nose-picking semi-comatose idiots incapable of using a microwave.

Meanwhile my printer is spitting out my work, I’m setting the oven to pre-heat, sweating some onions in a skillet, hanging out the laundry whilst putting on another load, listening to two women on the radio crowing about their ability to multi-task. They’d like to see a man try to do that, so they would, oh ho ho.

Yes, you’re right if you think I sound a little angry, yet mostly I feel sad. As far from a misogynist as I have ever been, I’m sad and disappointed that after all those decades of struggling, women are enjoying their improved status in society by denigrating and slagging off men with gay abandon. We all wanted society to change its attitudes, laws and behaviour to women, but surely we aspired for something better: something feminine, wise, inspired and compassionate.

I certainly never imagined that I’d be accused of misogyny for writing something negative about somebody who happens to be a woman. That level of logic that requires me to despise all men because I think Joe Stalin was a crazed psycho.

Sometimes the abuse comes subtly. Ann Robinson had equine expert Clare Balding and Sikh chef and comic Hardeep Singh Kohli on her lovely TV show ‘My Life In Books’. At one point the two women are bemoaning the lack of female writers in their choices. Turning to Hardeep, Clare Balding observes:

“That’s why we know so much about you!”

Then Ann Robinson leaps in with:

“And put up with you!”

They all laugh heartily, as do the Snapper and I, but inside I’m a little upset. As a bloke I’m expected (ironically) to ‘man up’: to shut up and laugh along with the joke. Yet if we all keep doing that, then sexism becomes once again as entrenched and acceptable as it was all those dark decades ago.

Yes, it was a tiny apparently harmless joke, but could there be any acceptable scenario in which a man would speak thus about a woman? No, thankfully, those days are long gone. 

So why is it okay to publicly and often proudly slag off men on a regular and systemic basis? Surely the sexual revolution dreamed of greater things than mere revenge?

Meanwhile, I’m aware that sometimes I become over-defensive about my status as a modern man, and would like to apologise to the supermarket cashier who hadn't offered to help any women in the queue, yet turned to me and asked:

“Will I sort out your stuff and pack it into bags for you?”

I’m sorry. I know you were only being lovely, and you didn’t deserve my response. But over the years I’ve grown tired of being treated like an imbecile, simply on account of my gender.

Still, you deserved to be shown courtesy, which was sadly lacking in my grumpy reply.

“Just because I’ve a penis doesn’t mean I don’t know how to shop!”

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